Dustin Pedroia‘s long-awaited return to the diamond this season was decidedly short-lived, playing in just three games before being placed back on the 10-day disabled list last week with discomfort in his knee. Pedroia had missed the first two months of the season following cartilege restoration surgery on his left knee back in October of 2017.
Pedroia had been hampered by knee problems throughout the 2017 season and, thus, hoped the restorative surgery would eliminate those issues going forward. The 34-year old second baseman is the longest-tenured member of the Boston Red Sox and has been an integral part of the team throughout his career. He holds a .300 career batting average along with a Rookie of the Year award, an American League Most Valuable Player Award, and four Gold Gloves at second base.
However, Pedroia’s career is now heading in a scary direction, with 2016 being his only full, healthy one in the past four years. His path is beginning to look eerily similar to that of Chase Utley, who also suffers from chronic knee problems at this stage in his career. Utley has been able to manage his knee problems over the last few years, allowing him to play in 138 games in 2016 and 127 games in 2017. That being said the knee problems took a toll on Utley’s career from a productivity standpoint. He has not hit better than a .270 average since 2013 and he now possesses minuscule power while playing on a limited basis.
Pedroia and the Red Sox now face an important, and also difficult question: can Dustin Pedroia still be a viable everyday player? The history for players who suffer from chronic joint injuries does not provide any optimism as it pertains to that question. Long-time big league stars such as the aforementioned Utley, David Wright, and Troy Tulowitzki serve as grim reminders that the game exacts a great toll on its players, particularly for infielders. The constant shifting, lunging, planting, and flexing of the feet, ankles, and heels of infielders is often more than the human body can handle over a long period of time.
While it is not entirely fair to assume that Pedroia’s best days are behind him it is a possibility that the Red Sox must take into consideration. Pedroia is under contract with Boston until 2021, at which point he will become a free agent at 37 years old. He is making $16 million in 2018 and he will earn $40 million over the final three years of the contract.After another injury setback, there are many questions surrounding @RedSox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. What does the future hold for the former MVP?Click To Tweet
Given his age, contract, and injury history it is extremely unlikely that the Red Sox would be able to find a trade partner for Pedroia even if they wanted to. At this point it is looking like Pedroia will finish his career in Boston, but he may be doing it as a platoon player rather than the everyday workhorse that he once was.
The talent pipeline at the second base position for the Red Sox is quite bleak, as well. One of their top prospects, Michael Chavis, was suspended for 80 games earlier this season after testing positive for PEDs. Chavis hit a combined .282 with 31 home runs in 126 games between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2017. An emerging young talent such as Chavis could make the situation with Pedroia seem less dire, but now the Red Sox will have to wait and see how he performs after serving his suspension.
In the meantime the Red Sox will lean heavily on utility infielders Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt to shoulder the load at second base in Pedroia’s absence. Holt is currently slashing .319/.388/.473 on the season and has been getting regular starts at second base. Nunez, on the other hand, has struggled thus far in 2018, hitting just .259 with an awful 41/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Hopefully this latest trip to the disabled list is just a minor setback for Pedroia. The Red Sox have a great chance to not only reach the postseason again but also go on a run towards the World Series this year. With any luck the four-time All-Star will be able to return, stay healthy, and dispel any and all doubts about his future. Until then, however, it would behoove the Red Sox to begin formulating a contingency plan in the unfortunate case that Pedroia’s best days are, indeed, behind him now.